Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Dodgy Pictures, Lists of Demands & Badly Written Profiles – What *Women* are Doing Wrong Online

This article was first published on the Sweetness and Life blog.

Going back into the dating game after a long relationship feels like being released from captivity.

Suddenly I find myself in a bewildering, mystifying world; one which didn’t even exist when I was last on the ‘outside’.

A world of apps and swiping and chemistry tests and strange selfies.

I’ve been staggering along in the dark, grasping for the light switch, managing to see a little more with each tentative step.

And if I could say one thing to the ladies on these sites it would be this: please relax.

Now, I’ve heard there are a fair few oddballs and nasties on the male side. Men who post naked selfies and close ups of their todgers; men who lie about their age and even identity; men whose best friends are apparently their pets or cars; men who are just after a quick shag (shock news: there are a few women like this too); and, less humorously, men eager to make derogatory comments about someone’s weight or appearance.

But, come on: is this really the rule rather than the exception?

And does it warrant the sea of negativity and even hostility us men have to encounter as soon as we’ve logged on?

Let’s start with the profiles.

I’ve lost count of the number starting with ‘are there any decent men out there any more’, ‘so many weirdos’, ‘anyone normal?’ You get the gist.

That’s hardly a great start to any conversation and it makes you wonder, why the hell are you bothering in the first place? Now, I could be wrong, but I can’t imagine so many men begin their profiles in this way.

Then there are the shopping lists: must be at least 6”2, ripped, funny, strong, kind, sensitive, earn £80k plus, have good grammar and punctuation (often spelling grammar and punctuation incorrectly).

If you post something like that, you’d better sure as hell be perfect yourself.

I know it can be good to know what you want, especially based on the knowledge and experience gleaned from previous relationships – and, as we get older, none of us want to waste time with the wrong person - but whatever happened to spontaneity, open-mindedness and being surprised by the things life can sometimes throw up?

In fact, isn't this what makes life worth living?

Then you get the don'ts: must not be boring, over-confident, a player, clingy etc etc. Followed by the common “if you’re only going to message me ‘hi, how are you,’ I will not reply.” Charming.

So add ‘must have the wit of Stephen Fry’ to that shopping list above (presumably along with, ‘must have the body of Steven Gerrard’).

Because I’ve got something else to tell you ladies – a lot of your profiles aren’t that original or creative either.

Almost every one states you are ‘easy going’, which, sorry, is not number one on the list of traits I associate with the fairer sex.

Other favourites are ‘my kids are my world,’ ‘love a night curled up on the sofa as much as a night out clubbing,’ ‘love going to the gym,’ and ‘I’m only on here to have a look.’

And let’s talk about your profile pictures.

What’s with that weird trout pout, the one where you purse your lips while aiming your chin down to your neck?

I’ve seen lots of other strange choices of profile pic, including wedding photos, photos with kids and, strangest of all, just pictures of kids. Swipe right to that and you might be getting a knock on the door from Operation Yew Tree.

What’s struck me above all is what a callous world this can be.

If you approach a girl in a bar – even if you look like Quasimodo (be kind) – the chances are a witty one liner will still at least elicit a response.

Not so in the world of online dating. If someone doesn’t like the look of you, even a Wildean remark will be met with the cold shoulder.

I’ve done this as well and it feels rude and wrong.

And if you do clear that initial hurdle of initiating a conversation, the shopping list scenario might again present itself.

A true example:

Me: Hi, how are you? (boring, granted)

Them: Fine thanks. Can you tell me: what you want from a relationship; whether you want kids; how you would bring up your kids; what you do in your spare time; what your career aspirations are?

Me: Can I come back to you in a few months while I work this out for myself?

If conversation does continue, you often then go off into the netherworlds of WhatsApp and Snapchat.

Or, for the older among us, texting - or even a real-life conversation.

It’s a wonder you ever get out on that first date… and there’s a whole new article to write about that.

Friday, 20 November 2015

The decline of a legend: Mitchell's memories of Lomu

John Mitchell remembers Jonah Lomu sitting forlornly in the All Blacks dressing room in Wellington following a game against Fiji in June 2002.

They had won the match convincingly, but Lomu had again performed poorly and coach Mitchell was unable to pinpoint why.

"An unknown winger had gone around Jonah very easily in the game to score," Mitchell, 51, told me.

"And I can still picture him sitting there in the changing room afterwards, looking bewildered. He was a shadow of his former self and we were at a loss to explain why.

"Afterwards I had to sit down with him and his manager and explain that he was not meeting the performances expected. It was very tough to do that.

"As an All Black, you have to meet incredibly high levels of performance, regardless of your reputation or how much I like you as the coach. And I really did like Jonah."

The reasons for the decline became clearer in 2003, when Lomu was diagnosed with a rare kidney disorder called nephrotic syndrome.

He had a transplant in 2004, but the complaint continued to dog him for the rest of his life, heavily contributing to his death on Tuesday at the age of just 40.

The warning signs had been there during a 2002 training camp in Coromandel, just a short time before that Fiji game.

"Jonah was really struggling with the anaerobic work we were doing," recalls Mitchell, who was All Blacks coach from 2001 to 2003.

"The data was telling us he was degenerating and we didn't know why. I don’t know if we were ever told the whole truth about it."

The winger managed to get into the All Blacks squad for the Autumn 2002 tour to the UK, but these games were to prove his last in an All Blacks jersey.

He came off at half time in the win over Wales in Cardiff after complaining of double vision and was taken to hospital.

"It was distressing to see this 180kg winger lying on a bed with lots of wires coming out of him," says Mitchell, who now runs a manufacturing business in South Africa.

"If I'm honest, I knew then that this was the end of his All Blacks career."

Mitchell's defining memory of Lomu is of the rampaging, unstoppable teenager he faced in the All Blacks trial in Napier in 1994 though.

The number eight had recently won his first cap, making him the 940th All Black. Lomu was soon to become the 941st, at just 19 years and 45 days of age, making him the youngest All Black in history.

"I remember sitting in a small aeroplane with him going to Napier for that probables v possibles match," Mitchell adds.

"He was a very quiet and unassuming young man, but when he got out of his seat after we landed I thought, 'wow, he's massive'.

"And in the game he was almost unstoppable, he really was. His pace, allied to his size and power, was just unbelievable. He also had soft hands and a lovely balance.

"They named the team after that game and Jonah was in, which was quite something at his age. We all went to the pub afterwards and I can remember going over to him to congratulate him and wish him luck.

"He was very humble and respectful. Who would have known at that stage that he was going to be the star of the World Cup the following year?

"The coach, Laurie Mains, drove him to become even better physically and mentally within the space of just a year. And I don’t think we will see anyone like him again.

"He transcended the sport. He was phenomenal."

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Leeds Fans United proposed takeover

I know this is emotional ground, because a lot of Leeds United followers would love to see the club fan owned.

I'm an advocate of fan ownership and there seem to be few clubs where this would be more appropriate than Leeds United, who have a massive, passionate fanbase and a recent history of poor ownership.

I don't have any agenda or allegiance here, although a few will inevitably say otherwise. I've spoken to Dylan Thwaites previously and he seemed a decent man with good intentions.

However, I am cynical, as some have accused me of being on Twitter. I think journalists have to be.

On Friday, LFU announced it had reached an agreement in principle to buy Massimo Cellino's majority stake in the club. This followed a meeting between the Italian and LFU's Sharon Reid, though not with Thwaites as I understand it.

Cellino was feeling brittle and emotional following the reaction he had received from the home fans at Elland Road during the 2-0 defeat by Blackburn Rovers on Thursday night.

The level of vitriol shocked him and he decided overnight that he would be willing to sell. He feared for his safety; his wife, who had moved to a rented house in Belgravia in London, did not want to return; and Cellino was beginning to have serious doubts about his ability to deliver success.

So this was the background to the meeting. And Cellino's response to LFU was basically "if you can pay me the money then I will sell to you."

He didn't see this as being so strong as an agreement in principle, but I guess this depends on semantics. And he was surprised when LFU came out all guns blazing in the press, I'm told.

LFU are aware that there are other parties who are actively interested in buying the club and they want to ward them off, before committing money to a potentially losing cause or being used as a pawn, hence they want a legally binding exclusivity agreement in writing.

This would mean that Cellino could not negotiate with other parties during a certain period of time. My understanding is that the Italian is not willing to do that, but let's wait and see.

If you were him, would you sign such an agreement, potentially kiboshing a sale to another party?

LFU seem to have been a little hasty with their announcement, though perhaps they hoped it would really get the ball rolling and bring other investors on board.

They admit £500,000 has been pledged so far and that several "high net worth individuals" have shown an interest. They are also talking to institutional investors.

So this is very much a fundraising stage, hardly a "poised to go".

Thwaites also talked about using a "debt deferral system" to raise cash, so that loans could be paid back with interest "when we get in the Premier League".

Now, Leeds fans must be tired of hearing that presumption after it has been espoused by a procession of owners, including Cellino. "When we get in the Premier League": unfortunately easier said than done.

Thwaites says Leeds' value, in terms of equity, as stated at Companies House, is £30million. But the playing squad needs revamping and the club doesn't own its own stadium or training ground.

There are also other outstanding debts, running costs and a whole host of potentially expensive legal cases in process.

Thwaites believes LFU could "probably" complete the takeover within three months. And we will have to hope so.

Because Sam Byram is out of contract in the summer and I'm told the one real jewel in the playing squad, Lewis Cook, has a clause in his contract stating he can leave if the club is not promoted this season, which, let's face it, is not going to happen.

The mood Cellino is in at the moment, he doesn't want to invest any more of his own money in the club. He's hurt and has decided he wants out, at the right price.

There is a worrying potential for decline. So let's hope something positive does happen in the coming months.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Rosler responds to Leeds sacking

This morning I went to see Uwe Rosler at his home outside Stockport following his shock sacking by Leeds United.

The German explained he wasn't able to say much because of "legal matters", presumably relating to his severance deal with the club.

However, he did tell me: "I didn't see that (the sack) coming at all.

"I always had a good relationship with the owner and he had talked about wanting to build."

And it's true that little more than two weeks ago, Massimo Cellino had said Rosler was the perfect manager for him and that he would appoint him again given the opportunity.

Yet he pulled the trigger following the last-gasp 2-1 home defeat by Brighton on Saturday.

Now, it seems a truism that the best route to success in football is stability. That's not always the case, as Watford showed last season, changing manager several times yet still being promoted to the Premier League.

What you DO need, however - and what Watford did have - is continuity of culture and philosophy from the top of the club.

So what is the footballing culture and philosophy of Leeds United under Massimo Cellino?

The Italian has had six managers in 18 months of ownership, each with a completely different style of football and man-management. He has also had several different chief executives.

Last summer, most of the signings came from the Italian second division and in came a managerial novice with (we were told) great coaching ability, Dave Hockaday.

Hockaday quickly came and went and in came a foreign coach, Darko Milanic. He was deemed too defensive. Following a highly successful stint as caretaker and, perhaps, a lack of other choices, Cellino went for the homegrown option in Neil Redfearn.

And that (to me, anyway) seemed a good fit. Redfearn knew Leeds United inside out and had brought through the likes of Sam Byram, Lewis Cook and Alex Mowatt at the club's academy.

And he did well. Until Cellino took away his assistant, Steve Thompson, for reasons which are still not clear even now. Thompson, currently assistant to Simon Grayson at Preston North End, has not been given a clear reason for his suspension and has decided to move on and get on with his job at North End.

Then, of course, there were the 'sicknote six', who, at the very least, thought they could pull out of a game against Charlton for questionable reasons without facing censure from the club.

In the summer, Redfearn's contract as head coach was not renewed and he decided to move on.

From my conversations with Cellino, it became clear the Italian had been frustrated that Redfearn had not been talking to him enough or heeding enough of his advice. "Why doesn't he call me?" he said.

Onto Rosler, an experienced and capable coach.

The recruitment in the summer was decent, with the emphasis on players with knowledge of the Championship, and there have been some promising performances. Results have been poor though, meaning Steve Evans, a combustible character who has plied his trade at unfashionable clubs, is now in the hotseat.

Six managers under Cellino - Brian McDermott, Hockaday, Milanic, Redfearn, Rosler and now Evans - each with a completely different style of management and a completely different style of football.

One is left feeling desperately sorry for the likes of Cook and Byram. Any young player needs developing and needs consistency of message and coaching.

That can often be the difference between a player reaching his full potential and being an also ran. Any player will tell you that. What might Byram have achieved had he been under the tutelage of Roberto Martinez at Everton instead of six different managers in 18 months at Leeds?

And did it help Rosler - or the player - when Cellino came out in the press and slated him for not signing a new contract, one which had been offered on worse terms than he is currently on?

And, of course, one is left feeling desperately sorry for the fans: again caught up on the whim of a capricious owner. It feels like groundhog day. There was stability with Adam Pearson and Rosler, just like there was stability with Matt Child and Redfearn last season, and now, again, there is none. And so the cycle goes on.

Always someone else's fault and always better days ahead. Only it never quite works out like that.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Steve Head sacked after a few days by Cellino

I've been a bit confused about the case of Steve Head, as I'm sure you have.

Different agents told me they had held talks with Head in his capacity as the new head of recruitment for Leeds United.

Head - who had a similar role with Norwich City and who is highly regarded in the game following spells with Fulham and even England - was brought to the club by new executive director Adam Pearson.

He signed a contract on Friday and Pearson was delighted to have got him on board, another piece in the jigsaw he is assembling at Elland Road.

All that was now required was the signature of Massimo Cellino. And perhaps you can guess where this is going.

On Tuesday, Cellino asked where Head was, only to be informed he had gone on holiday, a holiday which had been booked several months earlier, before Leeds United were ever on the scene.

The Italian was furious, saying he should be working for Leeds United, not on holiday. And he tore the contract up.

So that was that. Head basically lasted five days in the job, if you can call it that.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Another day at Leeds United: Cook, leaked lists and bung allegations

Forget the General Election - Thursday was another calamitous and chaotic evening at Elland Road.

First came news of a 'summer transfer list' Neil Redfearn had submitted to Massimo Cellino.

What immediately struck me was that these were exactly the types of players Cellino would NOT want. They were almost exclusively veterans likely to command big wages.

The Italian has spent the last year getting RID of exactly that type of player at Elland Road and has always been clear he wants to focus on young players of promise.

Two of the bright spots of the last year - perhaps the only bright spots - have been a reduction in the overall wage bill and the emergence of a young core to the team, largely facilitated by the exodus of old timers.

So the list, including Charlie Adam, Joey Barton, Jason Shackell, Tom Ince and Matt Phillips was so unlikely to be sanctioned by Cellino that it made you wonder who had released it and why.

After some investigating, I found out that some of the names were on a list given by Redfearn to Cellino in January, and others weren't.

On another note (or list), Cellino has spoken privately about Redfearn giving him the names of players he wanted to offload earlier in the season. The Italian said he was shocked by the names, which he refused to disclose.

Anyway, this was all merely an aperitif, because the main action of the evening was still to come.

First of all, the BBC's Adam Pope reported receiving a text from Cellino at 9.14pm, telling him "we have just signed the Cook contract".

It turned out there was the still not inconsiderable hurdle of Lewis Cook himself having to sign the contract to overcome. And the contract extension was for just one more year, not the three that Cellino had previously promised.

And the thought arose: is there any other club that would release news of a contract renewal for a key player (which had not yet been signed by the player himself) via a text from the owner to a reporter? I can't think of one if there is.

An hour later, there was another story, making it apparent that Cellino's text was a desperate attempt to release good news to overshadow the bad. Fat chance of that though, because the bad news was nuclear.

It came via the well-respected football journalist David Anderson, from the Daily Mirror.

Anderson reported that not only was Cellino being investigated by the Football Association for alleged third-party ownership of the player Adryan, which we knew about, but also for an alleged six-figure transfer bung paid during the sale of striker Ross McCormack to Fulham last summer.

Anderson said he had seen documents which appeared to show that Cellino had signed off a payment of £185,000 to football agent Derek Day, collected on behalf of McCormack's adviser, Barry Hughes.

When asked for a response, Cellino replied: "Everything I done. For me was clear I had the club consultant and my accountants. I don't know many people in England, if I did something wrong I didn't do it on purpose."

It was hardly a denial and it really doesn't bode well for the club. As we all know, saying you didn't do something on purpose isn't a defence to most offences.

And again: would any other club release a response to such a serious allegation via a text from the owner, which was barely even legible? Wouldn't other clubs produce a considered response via official channels?

As I write this update, at 10.20am on Friday morning, there has been no further response from the club. Perhaps that isn't surprising, because they don't have a chief executive or a head of communications.

Graham Bean, who was acting as a consultant for the club at the time of both the McCormack and Adryan transfers, was reported by the Mirror as saying: "Mr Cellino was the club signatory at all times and he agreed all payments relating to Ross McCormack's transfer."

Yesterday, when I said this club lurches from calamity to calamity on a weekly basis, people pointed out that I was wrong - that in fact this happens on at least a daily basis.

And I think they were right.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Cellino returns

We're now more than a year into Massimo Cellino's reign at Leeds United, and it's hard to make a case that the club is in a better place than when he arrived.

When I spoke to the Italian on Sunday, on the day his ban expired, he told me: "Compared to last summer, it is completely different. In terms of the cost, the number of players. From that I am quite happy."

Yet he sounded a little forlorn and also admitted to being worried about going into Elland Road the following day: because of what he might encounter and because of the amount of work he would have to do.

Yesterday we found out that workload had increased even more - the Football Association is investigating the transfer of Brazilian Adryan last summer and a possible issue of third-party ownership.

Cellino said he was meeting FA officials about the issue today (Thursday) but insisted there was no case for him to answer and that everything had been above board.

Most would agree that the little playmaker hasn't been worth the trouble, struggling to adjust to the demands of the English game and barely featuring since Christmas.

Add this to the Cameron Stewart case; to the legal cases still looming over Cellino in Italy; to the fact he hasn't bought the ground or training ground, as promised; that the club is desperately short of both coaching and administrative staff; to the fact pre-season still hasn't been organised; to the fact there isn't a head coach in place for next season - and you get the picture of a club in disarray.

Cellino said he was disappointed about the way things had been run during his three-month absence.

“Nothing has been sorted out and instead there is just shit," he told me.

“When I left, everyone was looking after their own skin rather than what was good for the club.

“Everything needs sorting out for next season – the sponsors, ground, lights, even pre-season.

“They told me we were booked for the pre-season. Then I find out the Liverpool under-17s are booked at the same place and there is only one training pitch. Amateurs.

“We also need a head of press, a head of the academy, a sporting director, a club secretary.

“This is unbelievable and quite scary. Andrew Umbers is a nice man, but this is hopeless.”

Cellino will now become chairman/ president, with Umbers stepping down as chairman but remaining on the board. This is a little bit of a comedown, because he had told people the chairmanship was his permanently.

At least with the Italian back in situ, we can expect more information about the way the club is being run, whether people like it, or choose to believe it.

In his absence, there was an unfortunate attempt to spin.

We were told that the 'sicknote six' had all been injured and that the board had been kept fully aware of the situation. There were holes in this explanation and it undermined head coach Neil Redfearn.

We were told that the head coach had never actually been told he couldn't pick Mirco Antenucci and that he was free to select who he wanted. Again, this was flawed.

And an email was sent to staff warning them of the consequences should they leak information. At the end of the day, this was just hurting the fans, who are far better informed than the hierarchy might give them credit for.

Cellino actually argued everyone focusses on Umbers too much though, because his role had essentially been as a figurehead in his absence and that he didn't wield the authority or importance people bestowed upon him.

So what about Redfearn? The question on everyone's lips.

“I am in love with Neil and I don’t want to talk to anyone else about the job,” Cellino said.

“I have always believed in him and I gave him his big chance.

“I made sure he had a clause guaranteeing he would pick the team because I don’t want a coach I control.

“If my coach is working in the right direction I will treat him better than anyone else in the world.

“I have made a lot of mistakes in my life and I don’t want to have this.

“But I need to decide whether Neil is best for the club and can lead us back to the Premier League."

It looks like sporting director Nicola Salerno will go, because Cellino wants to focus on English players.

And, interestingly, an olive branch has been held out to former assistant Steve Thompson, who was suspended without explanation last month.

Both Cellino and Umbers have phoned him and he was invited to the club's end of season awards dinner last weekend.

Perhaps understandably, Thompson declined the invitation. The League Manager's Association is advising him about his suspension and he's not happy about the way he was treated. Expect to hear more on that.

But you won't need me to tell you that. This does seem to be a club that lurches from crisis to crisis, mishap to mishap, almost on a weekly basis.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Cellino speaks: On the sicknote six and other matters

Massimo Cellino called me during the game against Charlton, early in the first half.

Leeds were 1-0 up thanks to that rarest of occurrences - a Steve Morison goal.

“Can you believe it! A goal from Morison, fucking hell!” he laughed.

The Italian was ebullient, even though his son Eduardo had just informed him some of the travelling fans were chanting ‘Cellino out!’

He claimed this didn’t bother him, although I wasn’t entirely sure I believed him.

“I am used to it,” he said.

“I remember one game at Stadio San Paolo in Italy, when Cagliari were playing Napoli.

“There were 60,000 fans spitting at me and chanting ‘Massimo Cellino motherfucker’.

“I have experienced it, it’s ok.”

Having thousands of your OWN fans chanting this is a different matter of course. But anyway.

Cellino explained he had a long-standing, mutual animosity with the Napoli supporters.

When his side were struggling at the wrong end of Serie A one season, the Napoli supporters had sung the equivalent of “you’re going down” at his players and fans. This irked him.

So when Cagliari snatched an injury-time equaliser and then a winner against Napoli the following season, he celebrated effusively – and right in front of them.

Not only that, but cameras captured him mouthing “pieces of shit” in their direction.

This didn’t go down at all well, as you might expect, hence those clear and succinct chants of “Massimo Cellino motherfucker”.

This was Cellino’s retelling of the story and it seemed to encapsulate the man quite well: bearing a grudge, courting controversy, causing trouble.

The 58-year-old said he had asked the Football League’s permission to attend Leeds’ final home game of the season, against Rotherham.

The game takes place a day before his ban ends. And, unbeknown to him at the time, his own fans are planning a mass protest against him.

But, as I said, he claims not to be worried about such matters.

“If the fans want to kick someone, kick me,” he said.

He was rather more upset that his daughter, Eleonora, had been targeted on social media.

Which brings us onto the latest bizarre twist in the battle between the club’s board and manager Neil Redfearn.

I call it a battle, but it seems to be one-way and I’ve never been entirely sure what the ultimate objective is.

And when I talk about the club’s board, does this actually just mean Cellino?

Has he been involved in the running of the club during his ban?

I don’t know for sure, but others will, including Redfearn, Steve Thompson and Matt Child.

With two of them already having departed and one on the brink of going, there could well be more to come on this story, with the Football League potentially involved.

Cellino has always insisted he has respected the ban and left the running of the club to others while he's been away.

He said he had not heard about the six injured players until Friday evening but admitted it looked “weird”.

He asked why Redfearn hadn’t told chairman Andrew Umbers about the injuries and questioned why the issue couldn’t have been sorted out internally.

Umbers subsequently said the medical staff had made him aware of the news.

When this inconsistency was pointed out to him by Phil Hay, Umbers said Cellino wasn’t au fait with the day-to-day running of the club because of his ban.

I told Cellino that a lot of fans suspected he had instructed the players to strike, in order to undermine Redfearn, but he strenuously denied this.

“I am not a coward and I’m not the sort of guy who tells his players to go on strike,” he said.

“I never use the people I love to protect me.

“If I want to do something, I have the balls to come out and do it myself.

“I only found out about these players pulling out on Friday evening. I can’t get involved with the club because of my ban.”

But one thing is for sure – the players wouldn’t have pulled out if they thought Redfearn had the backing of Cellino.

At the very least, they believed they could act with impunity in defying their manager.

Because, as of Saturday, people inside the club were privately arguing that Antenucci and Silvestri were genuinely injured, but no-one I spoke to attempted to argue that Del Fabro, Doukara, Cani and Bellusci were.

And, unprompted, Cellino said: “Perhaps they [the players] think they are doing something nice for me. But they are wrong.” And he described what had happened as “embarrassing”.

Yet still, on Sunday evening, as Lewis Cook was recognised as the young apprentice of the year by the Football League, Leeds released a statement reiterating that all six had been genuinely injured on Thursday. Or was it Friday?

Perhaps, as Umbers said, this is a sign that Cellino isn’t involved in the running of the club, that he’s looking in from the outside.

So what about the long term?

Cellino has previously told me the club is not for sale but that “everything has its price”.

He says plenty of parties have shown an interest, and that Red Bull asked to see the books – to which they were informed the club was not for sale - but there have been no firm offers.

And the eccentric Italian says he is planning for next season.

“I don’t have much time, I want to see the team in the Premier League,” he said.

“I have to change a lot of things, keep the best players and bring in four new ones, the right ones.

“The fans are going to enjoy next season so much, it will be a beautiful season, I promise to them.”

Where once proclamations like this seemed invigorating, prompting fans to think ‘maybe this crazy man can do what he says and take us back where we belong’, now I suspect they fall flat.

Too much has happened to make most fans believe in him any more.

After all, the team was doing well, winning a lot of games, and with a nucleus of young players under a homegrown manager.

Then it was all brought crashing down. Sabotaged even.

Why was Thompson suspended and why hasn’t he been replaced?

Who ultimately made that decision?

Why did six foreign players, all signed by Cellino, pull out on the eve of a game, to the complete bewilderment of the manager?

What is the reasoning for these decisions and why is it always inconsistent and untimely, depending on the time of day and the person giving the explanations?

Even Cellino himself admitted it all looked 'weird'.

Too right.

So the fans can be excused for grimacing when they read promises about next season.

And what of Redfearn? It seems unlikely he will still be the head coach next term.

Cellino said: “My dream was always to think of Neil Redfearn.

“People forget, when I first came in, after just 24 hours, I put him on the bench. I liked him and believed in him straight away.

“Then I put him in charge of the team. I loved him and we talked every day.

“And he helped me a lot, of course. And I appreciate that. And I thank god that we stayed in the Championship.

“But when I come back, I have to make a choice. I have to decide what is best for the club.”

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Calm to storm at Leeds United: How did it come to this?

Rewind to the start of April and Leeds United appeared to be sailing in calm waters.

Unbeaten in five, safe from relegation and with their young players to the fore: a rare opportunity to relax and look forward to next season with some optimism.

That was until the storm of 'mad Thursday', with assistant manager Steve Thompson suspended without explanation and news emerging that the club's top scorer had effectively been put in mothballs.

Since then there have been three defeats in a row, the position of manager Neil Redfearn is in doubt, and there are fears that the futures of young guns Lewis Cook, Sam Byram, Alex Mowatt and Charlie Taylor could lie elsewhere.

So how did it come to this?

To try and understand, we need to go back to the end of last year, to December 30th to be precise, when Leeds United had just lost 2-0 away at Derby County. In truth, the scoreline flattered them, because they were completely outplayed.

They were 20th in the table, just one point above the relegation zone. And I, for one, thought they would be relegated.

It was at this point that Redfearn decided that if he was going down, he'd go down his way.

So at the start of 2015, out went the diamond formation and in came 4-2-3-1. Out went Bianchi, Doukara and Antenucci, and in came Murphy, Morison and Taylor.

Massimo Cellino has always told me he has never, ever, told a manager who to select. But he's also quite clear that he oversees transfers. And it doesn't sit well with the owner if a manager overlooks these signings.

Anyway. Back to the turn of the year and the turn in fortunes. One January signing, Sol Bamba, made a difference. And Thompson started to make an impact, too. Murphy and Bamba, in particular, paid tribute to the help he had given them.

And, perhaps most significantly of all, Redfearn started to get the best from the young guns he had nurtured through the club's academy.

Results picked up dramatically. Among the impressive results were wins over high-flying Bournemouth and Middlesbrough. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Leeds were one of the form teams in the division.

Then came mad Thursday and that optimism evaporated.

Underlying all of this, from day one, has been a tension between the foreign and English contingents at the club - or perhaps more accurately, between the staff of the Cellino era and the rest.

Despite the impressive results, the club's hierarchy were frustrated that the new signings - Montenegro, Cani, Doukara et al - were not getting a chance in the side.

Whether or not this came direct from Cellino, who was banned (and in Miami), I can't say. But the frustrations of 'the board' were conveyed to the manager.

Some of the foreign signings - Berardi, Bamba, Silvestre - mixed in with the rest, but the others didn't.

And suddenly there was not only Salerno at training - who Redfearn always got on well with - but his 'assistant' as well, a young man named Andrea.

The 23-year-old Frenchman first came to the attention of the Cellinos when he was working in a furniture shop in Miami. Mrs Cellino came in as a customer and was impressed by how polite this young man was, and by the fact that he spoke a number of languages.

Soon he was brought over to the club in an intern capacity, initially working in the club shop and then assisting Salerno, acting as his interpreter. He was given a modest wage and put up in a flat in the city.

Other staff understandably became bemused when he started to turn up in the boardroom for matches though. And at meetings. And at the Thorp Arch training ground, where he would ask questions and occasionally voice opinions.

Staff at Elland Road soon started to nickname him 'the spy' - and it stuck.

This is all perhaps something of an aside, although it adds to the slightly surreal picture at the club.

Tensions and mutual distrust between the two camps boiled over with the Antenucci affair. To recap, chairman Andrew Umbers told Redfearn he was not to select the striker because he was two goals away from triggering a clause that would give him another year's contract.

Redfearn said he would go along with this, but only so long as he could be honest about the reasons for not picking the player. After all, his form had picked up and he'd scored in his last two games. But he was told he mustn't do that.

When Thompson and Redfearn arrived for work on the morning of Thursday April 2nd, Bellusci and Antenucci were laughing. That seemed strange, but the reason soon became clear when Thompson was handed a letter, signed by Nicola Salerno, informing him he had been suspended.

Redfearn later spoke to Antenucci. "I stuck up for you, Mirco, and my mate got suspended," he said. "Now you're laughing about it."

Antenucci felt pretty bad about that. And, to be fair, his attitude, in both training and the matches, has been good and he earned a place in the side. Cellino, in turn, denied that Redfearn had ever been forbidden from selecting the striker.

When I spoke to the club's Italian owner last week, he revealed Salerno had tendered his resignation, but said he hoped to talk him out of it. It's hard to escape the conclusion that Salerno - who is described as a gentleman by pretty much everyone at Elland Road - felt very awkward about the events of the last fortnight.

So the club has no assistant manager, no sporting director and a manager on the brink.

The reasons for Thompson's departure are still not entirely clear. Cellino told me it was because he had called Salerno a 'retard' after the Fulham game, which Leeds won 3-0.

He also said he was still committed to the club and that they needed four or five new signings to mount a promotion charge next season.

In short, what we have is a situation of confusion, uncertainty and turbulence.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Rewind to Red Bull interest October 2014

In late October 2014, a source close to Massimo Cellino's regime told me the Italian had held talks with drinks giant Red Bull.

Apparently they were talking about the drinks taking up to a 50% stake in the club.

I ran a story and Cellino was very touchy about it indeed.

He said he had held talks with a middleman acting for the company. And that the talks were not about Red Bull taking a significant stake at all, but about sponsorship and investment. Something like renaming the training ground.

Cellino insisted he was at the club for the long haul and had unfinished business.

The Daily Mail website ran a story claiming Red Bull were in takeover talks. Apparently the club sent them a legal letter about the story and got an apology. There were also suggestions they had received some minor financial compensation.

I went on TalkSport to talk about it all on Sunday November 2nd - essentially summing up what I've written above.

I then got a text from Massimo Cellino, forwarding on a text he had been sent by Andrew Umbers.

"Just been listening to simon Austin on national radio saying that you are considering selling the club to red bull and talks are ongoing.

"Not good news. Leaves a confused message to fans, sponsors and players."

That wasn't what I'd said, but anyway.

Things seem to have changed now. Cellino is banned and facing the prospect of further bans. He says he has received an offer and that it will be considered by the board.

A figure of £60 million has been mentioned, which you would imagine would be accepted, if it's true.

Still more to go on this.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Leeds United's 'mad Thursday' explained

Not for the first time in Massimo Cellino's Leeds' reign, fans were left scratching their heads yesterday and asking 'what was all that about?'

At the start of the morning, news came through that assistant manager Steve Thompson had been suspended. This was a shock, to say the least.

Thompson had been given a letter, signed by Nicola Salerno, informing him he was suspended (with the word suspended spelt incorrectly) and that his contract, which expires this summer, would not be renewed.

Then, just as Neil Redfearn was about to attend his weekly press conference ahead of the Blackburn game on Saturday (understandably, he had considered cancelling it, before deciding he would front up to discuss a decision he had known nothing about), I wrote this story for The Sun revealing that the manager had been told he was not allowed to pick his top scorer, Mirco Antenucci.

The two stories, combined, gave a feeling of chaos, of a club in disarray. They weren't two random events that just happened to coincide though.

They were linked. And this is why.

Earlier in the week, Redfearn was told by chairman Andrew Umbers, in no uncertain terms, that he was not to select Antenucci because of a clause in his contract triggering an automatic one-year extension should he score 12 goals.

This would mean the striker staying at Elland Road for a further two seasons beyond the current one, as well as receiving a cash bonus.

This incentivised contract was seen as good business when it was agreed, as it would guarantee that the player would be rewarded only if he achieved. It was seen as insurance for the club. Everyone's a winner, or something like that.

Only Antenucci did get very close to reaching the stipulated target, and the club decided it didn't like the incentive any more. Antenucci is already 30; he has done fairly well although not outstandingly well in his first season; and the club's ownership situation is now up in the air.

These incentivised contracts are not unusual in football. And, even though it seems bizarre, this would not be the first time a club has wanted to avoid playing someone about to activate a clause.

But what is rather poor form is the fact that Umbers told Redfearn he could not disclose the real reason for not selecting Antenucci.

This put the manager in a difficult position. It's not hard to see why. Just consider if, at a press conference or in a post-match interview, he was asked why he had not selected the club's top scorer, a striker who had netted in his last two matches.

He would have to lie. And that sat uneasily with an honest man of integrity like Redfearn - one who also has a clause in his contract stating he has full autonomy over team selection.

So this caused tension between Redfearn and Umbers. The manager said he would not go along with what he had been told, and that if he couldn't pick Antenucci, he would at least be honest about the reason, saying it was a board decision.

In response, Umbers told Redfearn he must not do that and there would be consequences should he do so. Was Cellino aware of all this and ultimately behind the decision?

That's a question I could not answer definitively.

Then there was something of a stand-off between Redfearn and the board.

The club was obviously loath to suspend or sack the manager. He has done an excellent job this year, has brought through a fine crop of young homegrown players and is held in high esteem by the club's fans.

So what was the next most severe thing they could do?

Thompson was informed in the letter that he was being suspended because of the way he had been 'carrying out his duties'. But this doesn't wash.

Surely it was Redfearn's place and his alone to decide on the way his assistant was carrying out his duties? And he has always said that he was delighted with what Thompson had done.

And the form of the team, the morale of the team, has been excellent in 2015.

It's hard to escape the conclusion that this was a way of clipping Redfearn's wings, of showing him who was boss, of rebuking him, without taking the ultimate step of targeting him directly.

It's fair to say that Cellino was not sure about Thompson's appointment in the first place and that it took the persistence of chief operating officer Matt Child to push his signing through.

Cellino was always slightly suspicious of him after that as well. Perhaps it was because the Italian thought the appointment impacted on his own relationship with Redfearn and his own involvement in the football side of things, but that's speculation.

For his part, Redfearn has always spoken highly of Cellino, most recently in an interview with the BBC last week.

They genuinely get on and have a rapport. Having spent time with Cellino myself, I can vouch for the fact he can be extremely charismatic and inspirational. When he's in the mood, he can carry people along with his passion and vision.

And that can be powerful. At times like those, you genuinely think Leeds United could be onto big things with him at the helm.

Cellino can also be very astute and perceptive about people, and extremely knowledgeable about football.

But. And there are some serious buts. He can be extremely erratic and irrational. We have seen this when he has sacked people on a whim, in a fit of pique. Or when he has persisted with fights that were probably not worth fighting.

He also has an unfortunate trait of wanting to be the centre of attention and I wonder whether he has enjoyed watching the club's success in 2015 from afar, while he is sat in Miami and not involved on the ground at Elland Road or Thorpe Arch.

At times, he has seemed reminiscent of a child who has had a lavish birthday party laid on, only to find out he is ignored when it takes place.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Journalism: Forget the rules

"The dirty secret: journalism has always been horrible to get in; you always have to eat so much crap to find a place to stand. I waited tables for seven years, did writing on the side. If you're gonna get a job that's a little bit of a caper, that isn't really a job, that under ideal circumstances you get to at least leave the building and leave your desktop, go out, find people more interesting than you, learn about something, come back and tell other people about it - that should be hard to get into. That should be hard to do. No wonder everybody's lined up, trying to get into it. It beats working." David Carr, 2014.

That quote from the late, great New York Times writer David Carr, brilliantly encapsulates - far better than I ever could - why journalism is such a genuinely fantastic profession.

Every day is different, you get to learn and write about interesting subjects, you meet fascinating people from all walks of life, and you can experience the thrill of breaking stories and setting the agenda.

Sometimes it doesn't feel like that though.

That's because we don't hear about those things as often as we hear about 'the rules'. The rules of presentation and tech. About how a story must be presented in a modular way, about how it must be a list, about how there must be a large photo every three paragraphs, about how we must churn out x number of stories per hour, about how it must be funny or quirky or grotesque in order to grab attention on Twitter.

This is anathema to journalism. It isn't what it should be about at all. It seems as if we've lost sight of what is important, what has always been important, and what will always be important - the story!

That's what makes people read a piece in the first place. It's what keeps people reading. And it's what gets them coming back. It's what creates an impact. All the rest is mere window dressing, or, in the words of General Charles Krulak, 'Hogwash'.

Anyway, having said all that, here are my rules on the subject (only joking, there are just two):

1. Journalism isn't about rules: it's about taking a story on its merits, thinking about the best way to tell it, and then coming up with the best means to present it.

It's about having an instinct for what makes an interesting story in the first place and then being creative with it. If you go in with preconceived ideas about which types of story will work and how you're going to tell them and present them, then you've lost already.

The story will be formulaic and boring. I've known plenty of recent stories that broke 'the rules' - they were very long and on left-field topics for example.

But they were original and distinctive; they were interesting and intriguing. They were well told and well written, and well presented, with good pics/ video etc. And guess what, they often got almost a million hits in one day. And were widely shared. And people seemed to enjoy reading them and might have even learned something too.

Yes, they needed a compelling tagline for the headline and, as a result, for social media too. But that's always been the case, you've always needed to effectively grab the attention of the reader.

2. It's about the story: good stories are good stories - on any platform! It isn't rocket science. Once you have a good story, it's easy to tailor it for different platforms.

You do have to come up with the idea for an interesting story in the first place though, and then put in the calls and the research to pull it off. And that is difficult.

But as I say, the layout/ tailoring to a platform is the easy bit. Most people can do that! People might make it sound like a science, but it isn't really. Frankly, it's bullshit baffling brains.

A poor story (predictable, dull subject; formulaically told and laid out; no insight) will be poor no matter how well it is laid out.

Some people might like the rules because this is easier than having the nous the instinct to generate, recognise and then tell a good story.

That requires you to think on your feet and make a different judgement every time, because every story is by its very nature different. That's tougher. Easier, instead, to hide behind 'the rules'.

If it were all about rules, then we may as well throw away our laptops and let the robots take over. I'm pretty sure that will never happen though, because a robot will never, ever, have the innate instinct, creativity and deftness to approach every piece differently and produce great journalism.

End of sermon. Amen.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Upheaval at Elland Road: Quick Cellino reaction

I've had a quick chat with Massimo Cellino, so thought I'd add a quick note.

He says he will return to Leeds in the middle of April, ready to join the club at the end of his ban.

He claimed not to have been too involved in the falling out between Umbers and Child, because he's thousands of miles away and banned.

And he said he's not aware of any sale, unless it's been done without his knowledge (and he has resigned from the board obviously, but still).

And he thinks there will still be time to sort the contracts of Redfearn and the young guns. "There's no rush,' he said.

So there you go.

Upheaval at Elland Road: Inside track on Child's resignation

Even when things are going well on the pitch at Leeds United - which they invariably have been in 2015 - there seem to be problems off it.

And so it was yesterday, when we heard that chief operating officer Matt Child had resigned. He left a transition letter, handed in his resignation, cleared his desk and went.

Although I certainly wouldn't claim to know Child well, I have spoken to him, am aware of some of his work and have spoken to people who have dealt with him.

He's a Leeds United fan; a normal bloke who is able to get on with a wide array of people (including Massimo Cellino!); and he has a background in commerce and private equity.

So I think he was an asset. He had forged a good relationship with the City Council, the local police, and even, to an extent, with the Football League.

Manager Neil Redfearn trusted him, and he was a good middle man between the boss and Cellino when the Italian was in situ. Cellino is, putting it mildly, a mercurial character.

So Child leaving leaves a void. Some might say it's fortunate the club is moving towards mid-table mediocrity (who wouldn't have taken that a few months ago?) yet there are important matters that need to be dealt with.

Redfearn still hasn't been offered a new contract. Nor have the young guns, Lewis Cook, Alex Mowatt, Sam Byram and Charlie Taylor. All five will be coveted elsewhere.

The lack of progress on the contracts is cause for alarm and could soon be made to look like negligence.

So the million dollar question: why did Child resign? He has Leeds in his heart and had even worked for two months free of charge when first arriving at Elland Road, so eager was he to help out and prove his credentials.

Child didn't want to comment when I contacted him about this and I don't have contact with the club's chairman, Andrew Umbers. But from my understanding, Child was feeling increasingly marginalised over recent weeks.

The final straw came when he was informed, by Umbers, that there would be no room for him in the directors' suite for the matches against Fulham or Blackpool.

You might say that alone did not matter too much. But it was more what it signified - and the message being put across was clear.

So the club is left with Umbers very much in charge of day-to-day affairs now, in the absence of Cellino.

Is he the man to sort out the contracts? It's certainly fair to say he doesn't have the relationship with Redfearn (or with other stakeholders and club employees) that Child did.

He's an investment banker and it's not outlandish to believe he's in situ to broker the sale of the club (and earn a commission). He's done it before of course. And is that why Cellino deems him useful too?

When I last spoke to the Italian (see last post), he was adamant that the club was not for sale. But he added that everything was for sale at the right price.

"Is your car for sale, Simon?"


"Would you sell it to me for fifty thousand?"


"There you go."

And that's why I wonder if Child might even be involved again one day: a Leeds fan, who has forged good contacts locally, who knows the inside workings of the club and has a background in private equity.

Stranger things have happened.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

A chat with Cellino

Massimo Cellino has been thousands of miles away in Miami for the last few weeks, but his presence is always felt at Leeds United.

I managed to speak to the Italian on Wednesday night. Initially he sounded tired and weary, but soon became more animated. This is a man capable of many moods, thoughts and opinions, all within the space of a single phone call.

Cellino said he had just been playing golf, which has apparently become a regular past-time of his since he was banned from owning the club by the Football League.

"I've been relaxing - playing golf and catching up with friends," he told me.

"I was worried about my health in Leeds, I really was, what with everything that was going on."

At first, he sounded a little down: weary after the fights, the legal cases and the bans.

Although he's not allowed any involvement with the club during the course of his ban, he's still been closely following the matches.

“The team is doing quite well, yes," he said, which seemed a bit of an understatement for a team which has won all but two of its matches in 2015.

"It’s the young players who are responsible for that," he added.

"Mowatt, Cook, Byram, Taylor – they are fantastic young players, they are the future of Leeds. I have always said that."

And, despite the upcoming Rule K arbitration with the Football League, and stories of an imminent sale, Cellino insists he is still committed to Leeds.

“I want to clear my name and come back, of course I do," he said. "I have done a lot of big things for this club, but the work is not finished.

“The fans have kept me going through all of this. People might say these are just words, that this is bullshit, but it's true.

"If it wasn’t for the fans, I would have left before.”

With his love of a good story, he was tickled by the reports about Russell Crowe being interested in the club.

"I heard this story about Russell Crowe and I laughed," he said. "I like this actor very much and I love his film, Gladiator.

"As far as I know, he hasn't made any contact, but, look, I am not involved with the club at this time.

"When I read that Crowe is a Leeds fan, I said 'this is fantastic'. I tell you though - owning Leeds is more difficult than fighting as a Gladiator."

Cellino is clearly looking ahead to next season. And he does seem frustrated that he's far away, unable to be directly involved with the club.

“If we can get two, three new players in the summer then we will be strong next season," he said. "Then we can start to think about the Premier League. But they have to be the right players."

In Cellino's absence, the club is being run by chairman Andrew Umbers and chief operating officer Matt Child - although Cellino says that his son, Eduardo, and lawyer, Giorgio Altieri, will also be having a significant say on events.

Umbers has clearly adopted the role of figurehead of the club with some relish. The investment banker has made statements, given interviews to the press, and hosted guests and held court on matchdays at Elland Road. And, as has been publicised, he's met with the fans' group Leeds Fans LLP, who are looking to buy a 25% stake in the club.

Umbers has also been very forthcoming with his opinions on football and the team, as anyone who has spent time with him will tell you. He's talked about tactics and players, although it's not entirely clear where this base of knowledge comes from.

He also hasn't been afraid to voice these opinions directly to the head coach, Neil Redfearn.

And then there's been the confusion over emergency loan signings. Redfearn has always been clear that his squad is inbalanced - and would any regular observer of the team disagree? Umbers initially said the door was not closed on emergency loans and then turned back, saying the squad was complete enough.

But isn't that Redfearn's decision? The confusion made things uncomfortable for the former midfielder this week.

Also then there's the issue of contracts - both Redfearn's and those of the players. Umbers said all contractual issues would be decided in the summer. Which is when Cellino is due to returm.

Which all brings us back to the same point - that despite Umbers' grandstanding, nothing will be really be decided until (or if) Cellino returns.

And that is a risky game to play with a manager who has done well in difficult circumstances, and a talented group of young players who have attracted covetous glances from elsewhere.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Sherwood already having a positive effect on Villa - Krulak

New manager Tim Sherwood has already given Aston Villa's players a big lift, according to director General Charles Krulak.

Villa’s new boss has had just one game in charge – a 2-1 defeat by Stoke last weekend.

Krulak says owner Randy Lerner has already seen enough to be impressed though.

“We showed a lot more spark in that game than we have been doing, that’s for sure,” Krulak, a lifelong friend of Lerner, told me.

“There was more vigour and attacking threat. It was just gutting to let a late goal in and lose that game.

“Randy is a realist and knows we have a fight on our hands. But he is extremely confident that Tim will keep the team up.”

Villa are second bottom of the Premier League, level on points with Burnley and QPR above them.

Lerner watched Sherwood at first hand when he visited Villa’s training ground before attending the Stoke game last week.

“Tim is a positive, hungry young manager and that’s a big reason why he was selected,” added Krulak, 72.

“Randy saw he was hands-on in training and his positive attitude seemed to rub off on the players.

“There was a good atmosphere about the place and all the players seemed to be very focussed.

“Randy has always believed in these players. There is a lot of ability there, even though we might not have seen too much of it lately.

“We’ve got no doubt that things will start to turn around for the club very soon.”

Krulak said he understood why some fans had questioned Sherwood being the only candidate interviewed for the job – but that it was Lerner’s prerogative.

“The fans absolutely have the right to make these kinds of comments,” he said.

“But the difference is that Randy is the man who is there on the spot. He’s doing what he believes is best for the Villa.”

Villa take on Newcastle in the Premier League on Saturday.

* A shorter version of this story appeared in The Sun newspaper.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Final word on Warnock's PFA complaint (hopefully) and what Cellino will do while he's banned

This might not seem the most relevant matter at the moment, but I thought I'd tie up a loose end.

A few months ago I wrote that Stephen Warnock had complained to the PFA about being frozen out of the Leeds United team.

Warnock denied this and there was a bit of confusion, as the player is represented by the PFA as an agent (they offer this service and I'm always surprised that more players don't take it up).

Anyway, yesterday Cellino said that Warnock HAD indeed complained to the PFA.

There had been well-documented friction between the pair for a while.

The straw that broke the camel's back came after the Watford game, when Warnock wanted to make his own way back to Liverpool with a friend, rather than getting on the team bus.

Cellino says he wasn't happy with this at all, after a thumping defeat, and ordered the player back on the bus.

Subsequently Warnock - who had already been to see the president with his agent to ask whether he was being left out of the team because the Italian didn't like him - asked the PFA whether the owner was allowed to make him go on the bus.

This eventually blew over and Warnock even went on to take the captain's armband, but there was friction between the pair for some time afterwards.

Cellino says he places great store on team harmony and togetherness. Indeed he pays for the players to stay in a hotel - at a cost of £20,000 so far this season, he says - before every home game, which is quite unusual.

And what will he do while he's banned?

"How will I spend the next two months? Going to games all over the country, watching players," he said.

"When I came in I didn't know enough of the players in England. I was lucky to see a good player like (Liam) Cooper in a pre-season friendly, but I didn't know enough of them.

"I like to see players with my own eyes before I sign them. I don't rely on agents. You see how many good players I will find."

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Stephen Warnock gives his lowdown on Leeds exit

After two years, five different managers and two owners, Stephen Warnock's Leeds United career is over.

As I reported on Monday, he's moving to Derby on an 18-month contract.

Reading did come in with a late inquiry and mooted a two-year deal, but Warnock was set on the Championship pace-setters.

I did think the writing was on the wall for the former England full-back from the start of the season.

He's 33, was one of the club's highest earners and was not afraid to speak his mind or stand his ground (not a bad thing in my opinion).

Massimo Cellino wanted him - and the rest of the squad - to move to Leeds, but Warnock refused to relocate his family from Liverpool.

There was also that well-documented story of Cellino phoning the Leeds dugout and demanding Warnock be substituted against Watford. Manager Dave Hockaday refused and word subsequently got back to the player.

So when he scored in the next League game against Bolton, he celebrated as if using a telephone.

Cellino was not best pleased and the player ended up being dropped for two games subsequently and the matter even ended up going to the PFA (whether formally or informally).

So a parting of the ways was always inevitable in my opinion.

And it's a compliment to Warnock that promotion-chasing Derby, managed by former England coach Steve McClaren, were only too happy to take the player.

When I spoke to Cellino on Monday, he said: "He (Warnock) is older, lives in Liverpool and refused to move to Leeds — and is often complaining. So I am happy for him."

I called Warnock this afternoon, after news of his move to Derby had broken, and he refused to get involved in any tit for tat.

"To be honest, what he (Cellino) said didn’t bother me - that’s up to him," he said.

"I don’t want to get into a slanging match. As far as I’m concerned, I have to look forward.

"People understand what has gone on at Leeds and I know what happened. I’m going to keep that to myself."

He also thanked the Leeds support - despite a sometimes difficult relationship with them during his time at Elland Road.

"I'd like to thank the fans for the support they've given me," he said.

"It's fair to say that it took a while for them to warm to me and it was difficult at first, but I think we had a decent relationship as time went on.

"And I was definitely pleased with my form and performances this season.

"I think what's happened is pretty well documented now - my contract was expiring and the owner didn't want to offer me a new one.

"That's the way it goes in football sometimes.

"It's always sad to leave a great club like Leeds, but sometimes you have to do what's best for your career - especially when you're coming closer to the end. I wish the club well.

"I'm joining a very good team that plays good football, so I'm excited."

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Cellino blames Football League for Leeds' faltering form

This does seem to be a tipping point in the reign of Leeds owner Massimo Cellino.

While even a couple of months ago there seemed to be widespread support for the Italian (because the team was showing signs of improvement, because he did eccentric things like joining the away fans at Brentford, and because he was deemed to have been unfairly treated by the Football League), now there is a lot of doubt and hostility.

With the team on a desperate run of form and just a point off the relegation zone, fans are desperately grasping for any signs of encouragement.

And, at the moment, they are finding that difficult.

Neil Redfearn publicly came out and said he was keen to sign former fans' favourite Luciano Becchio last week, only for Cellino to dash his hopes once he returned from Miami.

Redfearn had also made veteran defender Stephen Warnock his skipper. Now the former England man is on his way out of Elland Road.

Are there incoming signings to allay fans' fears? Well there don't seem to be any imminent signings and Cellino told me "we have enough players already, maybe too many." He says he does hope to bring in "a couple" of new players though.

In a nutshell, Cellino doesn't think the team is "a shit team". He just believes they need stability, support and confidence.

The Italian believes they were playing ok until the Football League banned him under its fit and proper rules.

"Since I was disqualified from the league, we did not win a game," he told me.

"I am trying but it is not easy. Players don’t come because they think I am not staying in Leeds.

"I don’t think every club has got the same problems we have. It's not easy. We had agreed to sign some players but they don’t come because they don’t think I am staying. A French and Belgian player. Their agents told me that was the reason."

Cellino's appeal will be heard tomorrow (Thursday) and he says he intends to fight the ban.

"I think the situation will be messy," he said, a little ominously.

"I know who I am and I am not a dishonest guy. When I came to England, I saw it as the country of justice and fairness.

"But I am facing the same problems I did in Italy – misjustice. There are three stages of justice in Italy and until the last one, you are innocent.

"I just know I am spending a lot of time and money on lawyers. I should dedicate more time and money to the club.

"I know the only thing that keeps me here is the faith and trust of the fans. Otherwise I was already gone. How can I buy back Elland Road when every three months they come back with this problem?

"Do you believe that I bought in Italy an American boat to save $180,000 of VAT? My money situation is not that bad. For sure it is not that. That is a way to hurt me and show I am not a fit and proper person.

"There are two stages of justice left in Italy. In the records I am clear. And 75% are found not guilty after third stage.

"Dolce and Gabbana were found guilty of tax evasion and after three and a half years were cleared at the third degree. I want to work and look after the team.

"This doesn’t help me, the team, the fans, the coach. It doesn’t help. I am positive though and think we have a good team.

"This is a young team, maybe a little tired. It is a team that hasn’t had stability. My way of working with the team is maybe a little bit tough, very aggressive.

"If I had known this (the Football League ban) I would never have come to England. But I keep fighting because I can see the fans trust me.

"They need to have faith and trust in someone. I cannot just give up. I have to keep fighting."

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Alan Stubbs: Everton manager in waiting?

I don't think Roberto Martinez's job is under immediate pressure. For a start, he has one of the most patient bosses in English football, chairman Bill Kenwright. And he did exceptionally well last season.

However, there was unrest among a lot of fans during tonight's 1-1 FA Cup draw with West Ham at Goodison Park and only a last-gasp goal from Romelu Lukaku averted a fifth straight defeat.

And some fans are talking - some hypothetically, some not - about who they would like in if Martinez does depart.

How about an Everton legend; who has been a fan as man and boy; who has coached at the club before and holds a Uefa Pro Licence; who was interviewed for the job in 2013; and who is already impressing in his first stint in management?

Step forward Alan Stubbs. Yet I don't hear his name mentioned very often.

Granted, he's only half a season into his first job in management, at Hibernian, and he had a tough start to life in Scotland.

When he arrived the squad was threadbare, demoralised and there were literally no backroom staff.

And results were disappointing to start with, with city rivals Hearts taking a massive lead in the Scottish Championship, which they still hold.

Yet Stubbs revamped the backroom staff, introduced a sports science department and introduced an attractive style of football. And it finally seems to be working.

Hibs thumped Rangers 4-0 during the festive period and drew away at arch rivals Hearts. In fact they have been on an impressive run of form for the last couple of months.

I spoke to Stubbs, 43, a few weeks ago, and he admitted Everton was his dream job.

"One day it would be really good to go back there," he told me. "I’ve thought about it.

"Could it ruin relationships there and potentially tarnish my relationship with the fans? Because I am held in high esteem by them.

"But to say you have played for, and managed, the club you supported as a kid – the club you still support - that would be quite something. I’d be very proud of that."

Stubbs enjoyed cult status during two stints as an Everton player, from 2001-2005 and 2006-2008. Then, in 2008, he was asked, out of the blue, by David Moyes to join his coaching staff.

Moyes was - and is - a mentor to Stubbs, although he emphasises that he wants to remain his own man.

Stubbs was very happy leading the under-21s at Everton, but his ambition led him north of the border.

"The easy thing would have been to stay at Everton and be under-21 coach and have no pressure or worries," he admits.

"As a kid, my ambition was to be a professional footballer, and play for my own team, and I did that. Now my ambition is to manage at the highest level."

Could he reach that highest level with his boyhood club?